A Night of Innovation & Empowerment


An evening of live entertainment, delicious food, and a  diverse group of individuals all celebrating was definitely the  place to be on Wednesday, January 28th- SHIFT25 A  celebration of Youth Challenge International’s 25 years of  hard work in youth empowerment and innovation.

Held at Toronto’s Regent Park, I, along with over 200 other  guests, had the delight of glimpsing into YCI’s work and  initiatives as well as the launch of their new YCI program.

 Coming to a professional event such as this that is hosted by  an organization -who deals with very serious and large  issues in the community- you would think that it would be  one of those “formal attire” parties where the people are  there to discuss the issue at hand, take a sip of their drink, chuckle politely, and stand around rigidly for a couple of hours. I’m quite pleased to say that it was quite the opposite.

Upon entering the chic and modern building, I was cheerfully greeted by YCI staff who promptly signed both me and my entourage in before allowing us to disperse and explore our surroundings. Along with the warm welcoming, the dim lighting and the upbeat music playing softly in the background set the perfect type of relaxing atmosphere that everybody needed in order to enjoy the night’s activities and do some networking- a bit of professional mingling.

Accommodating for an incredibly vast network of guests attending from different professions, geographical locations, and cultural backgrounds is no easy task to take on, but I was surprised to see how effortlessly the staff at YCI were able to unite us all. From riveting African drumming performances to passionate spoken word poetry delivered from Regent Park’s local artists, guests were thoroughly engaged and even more entertained throughout the night. Whether it were an engineer, a businessman, a university professor, or a young high school student, there was always something exciting to look forward to that evening.

So if YCI was aiming to attract diversity of all kinds, then they’ve achieved that 110%.


Throughout the night, SHIFT25 held three interactive sessions led by influential activists and artists based on three core themes: connect, impact, and inspire. Each experience was an opportunity to both learn about different types of strategies as solutions to inspire youth to succeed, as well as -my favourite part of the night- network.

I explored all but the Connect Zone- which in the end turned out to be okay because of what I was able to gain from the other two overall. While participating in the Impact and Inspire Zones, which focused on youth entrepreneurship & employment as well as conversing through arts & culture, I was able to meet dozens of new people in a way I never have before.

Being a journalist, networking is both a great and an important aspect to doing what I do, and for the most part, SHIFT25 offered the best of all situations to be networking in; diverse individuals in a casual setting who wanted to come in to learn something.

I found it especially warming that the positive energy radiating from the YCI staff was so pertinent in all the guests as well. There was not one person I spoke to Wednesday night who wasn’t open-minded, sincere, and as passionate about what they wanted to pursue in their professions as everybody here was.

What started off as business introductions became excited conversations about plans and goals that everybody I talked to would gladly help me to achieve in the future. It was like talking to some close friends and making plans for the weekend- just some more influential plans.


An organization where “diversity and talent come together to shape a better future for youth around the world” according to YCI’s website, was definitely the kind of message that was sent across to everybody by the end of the evening. New networks -and great friends- were made, ideas and goals were discussed, and a ton of fun was to be had. Definitely a pleasure to experience such powerful initiatives, even if on a smaller scale.

In my opinion, I thought YCI’s ability to weave in all their core traits and values into the evening through such creative and exciting ways made it an even better success. Jordan Walker, the events and outreach assistant for SHIFT25, couldn’t agree more.

“It was a lot of work, but we wanted to make it exciting and different,” said Walker, “This is the first year of SHIFT25 because of its anniversary, and what started off as a simple ‘wine and cheese’ sort of thing became something so much bigger because of what we were planning for the future of YCI and what we wanted to convey to everybody who came.”

And they nailed it.

Whether it was to come and make some new business colleagues, watch some live entertainment, or just to make a new friend that night, YCI’s message was clear: bring people together, empower them, and push for positive change.

What I took away from this experience? New friends, new goals, new confidence and inspiration, and a new outlook on creative innovation; an empowered mindset and a drive for change, whether big or small.

“It all comes down to people” said YCI, and it truly is.

Meet the author, Julie Do:

Juile Do bio photo

A Ryerson journalism student who is excited and curious to learn about the things going on around her- both internationally and locally. Learning to explode out of her introverted shell with confidence and knowledge to share to the world, she spends her time exploring,  conquering challenges thrown at her, and creating valuable relationships in all her  interactions. Her passion lies in writing and filming about anything and everything- whether  it be to convey a message on a controversial issue or to make people laugh. Her goal in life:  to communicate and make a difference in people’s daily lives through various art forms.

If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door

Visit Julie’s Twitter page  Check out her new blog!

The Power of Team on Mount Kilimanjaro

On Friday, October 18 a team of six committed people completed the Youth Challenge International (YCI) Kilimanjaro Climb to Give Thanks by reaching the summit at Uhuru Peak. The purpose of the climb was to raise funds and awareness for YCI’s international youth development programs during Canadian thanksgiving. YCI operates youth programs in four locations in Tanzania, some of which are very close to Kilimanjaro, which made the focus on the climb even more relevant. All six climbers reached the summit together to complete YCI’s inaugural Kilimanjaro charity climb with a 100% success rate.

Despite all my preparation and research, the climb exceeded any expectations and turned out to be an experience of a lifetime. African Scenic, an amazing company that relies on word of mouth, selected the Machame Route for YCI, which is known to be the most challenging route on the mountain and takes six days to complete. The route takes you through a variety of stunning flora and fauna as well as different types of trails. One of the coolest moments in the climb (besides Summiting) was climbing the Great Barranco Wall on the third day, which turned out to be the most technical part of the climb. 

The Team climbing the Barranco Wall

The team climbing the Barranco Wall

YCI brought together an eclectic mix of people for this climb that were either directly or indirectly linked to the organization. Passionate about YCI’s vision for the climb and full of energy, the team assembled from three continents and hit it off straight away. From Day 1, the team bonded, laughed, joked, and connected; most importantly, the team stuck together every step of the way, without exception. There was not a single moment when anyone was left behind, where anyone didn’t belong, where anyone didn’t contribute to the whole team. With five men over forty and one female under 25 known as ‘the kid’, you might expect some challenges, but there were none.

As soon as the team started the climb, it became clear that we were going to reach the summit together or not at all. On Day 1 of the climb, we connected with the amazing team of guides and staff from African Scenic and the team spirit continued to be contagious. The team of six, which only met one or two days before, soon became a team of 12 or more. I have never seen a team come together around a cause and overcome every physical and mental obstacle to achieve the goal. The power of the team led to the success of the YCI Kilimanjaro Climb to Give Thanks through sharing, giving, laughter and one common goal. 

Everyday, we started the day with our slogan “who’s got it better than us?  No one”.

There could have been nothing further from the truth.

The Power of the Team

“Who’s got it better than us? No one”.

Bryan Cox, Executive Director, YCI Kilimanjaro Climb to Give Thanks 2013

 If you missed out on the climb this year and would like to make a contribution to YCI’s life-changing youth development programs, you can donate here 






The Heroes of Kilimanjaro

This Thanksgiving, YCI embarked on a new adventure in Tanzania to climb 5,895m to the highest point in Africa – Mt. Kilimanjaro. The initiative raised awareness and funds for our life-changing youth development programs all over the world. 

On Thursday October 17th, 2013, YCI’s team of six climbers successfully reached Uhuru Peak, also known as “the roof of Africa”. This was not without enduring long day treks, below zero temperatures, and altitude sickness. The climb consisted of six days in total, hiking through forest, heather, moorland, and alpine desert zones. While the team was in good physical shape, the trek is exhausting and the environment is harsh. Camping for six days on a mountain in the cold and wind, with dust covering your entire body, can be tough. The hours of hiking on summit day seemed to never end, and when we finally reached Uhuru Peak we barely had enough energy to descend. 

YCI Team

The YCI Team

We are so proud of this tremendous accomplishment by the entire YCI team, as it is not easy to have a full team reach the summit. However, the climbers are not the true heroes of the mountain. It is the crew of guides, cooks, and porters that work tirelessly every second of every day to ensure that every climber is comfortable, happy, and healthy. Without this dedicated crew, our team never would have made it to the top.

Summit Crew - Ami, Samuel, Me, Robert and Eli

Summit Crew – Ami, Samuel, Amanda, Robert and Eli

Head Guide – Amanyisye (aka Ami). 30 years old, 100+ times up the mountain.
Ami is a truly inspiring leader and an incredible guide! He is experienced and so passionate about what he does, and extremely knowledgeable about Kilimanjaro. He was always emphasizing the importance of our health, to ensure that we made it safely and successfully to the top.

Head Guide Ami

Head Guide – Ami

Head Guide Ami and I

Head Guide Ami and Amanda

Assistant Guides – Eli, 29 years old and Emmanuel, 24 years old.
Our Assistant Guides were just as amazing, keeping us smiling with Kilimanjaro songs, jokes, and good conversation about the mountain.

Assistant Guides - Eli and Emmanuel

Assistant Guides – Eli and Emmanuel

The remainder of our crew consisted of one cook and 22 porters. The porters are responsible for carrying all of our bags and equipment (including their own), setting up the tents, collecting water, serving us hot beverages and food, and ensuring that all climbers are well taken care of. The entire crew are locals from around the surrounding area – Kilimanjaro, Moshi, and Arusha. The minimum age to be a porter is 18 years old. While the job of a porter is by far one of the most difficult jobs in the world, for these men (and seldom women), it is a good job that pays well for Tanzanian standards. For a 6-day trek, a porter makes approximately $120USD including tips.

Assistant Guide - Eli

Assistant Guide – Eli

The whole crew during Tipping Ceremony

The whole crew during Tipping Ceremony

While this is a good job for many locals, there are many hardships that they go through on the mountain. As tourists climb the mountain with their guides “pole pole” (very slowly) for acclimatization, porters speed past carrying their own packs plus up to 20kilos on their shoulders and heads. They get to camp first to set up the tents, prepare “washy washy” (warm water for washing), and start cooking. Porters wait to eat and have tea after the tourists, share a tent with about 7 – 10 people, and get no “washy washy”. The majority of the porters on the mountain don’t have proper hiking shoes, equipment, or clothing which adds to the risk of this job. To add to all this, being a porter for Kilimanjaro is a seasonal job as there are typically no climbers during the rainy season (January to June). They must save the little that they have, or find another job during the off season. An injury or health problem could harm the livelihood of a porter tremendously.

Our waiter Rafael bringing "washy washy"

Waiter Rafael bringing “washy washy”

On the positive side, there are porter associations in Tanzania working to ensure they are treated well, paid good wages and provided with proper clothing and equipment. It was important for us that the company we went through was a member of the porter association. As a global youth development organization that has programs preparing youth for the tourism industry in Tanzania, this experience reminded us of the valuable livelihood opportunities in the industry. Tourism is a very positive thing for the countries that YCI works in as a huge driver of the economy. Many youth are interested in working in the industry and we must continue to invest in them, providing them with the skills and opportunities to pursue their passion.

Thinking of climbing Mt. Kili? Remember to treat your crew very well. Respect them and show your appreciation. Tip accordingly. And leave behind any equipment and clothing that you can.

We could not be more grateful for the hard work and dedication of our crew. They were the reason we were able to achieve our goal and reach Uhuru Peak!

Our whole crew

The whole crew

– Amanda S. Armstrong, Volunteer Program Coordinator, YCI Kilimanjaro Climb to Give Thanks 2013

If you missed out on the climb this year and would like to make a contribution to YCI’s life-changing youth development programs, you can donate here

How to Fundraise: Silk Screen T-shirts

When my YCI experience began I did not have a lot of fundraising experience. Besides asking family, friends and strangers to donate to a cause, I had never organized any fundraising activities or events. I decided that this time I wanted to use my creative abilities to express how excited I was for my YCI trip to Costa Rica.

Initially, I thought selling t-shirts would be a great way to fundraise. Supporters would receive something from donating, and could also use their shirts to spread the news of my fundraiser! However, how I would make shirts in a timely manner and make a profit was much trickier than I anticipated. At first I tried making spray paint stencils (which looked easy and cheap on youtube!), but in reality were a tragic disaster. My local art store owner, recommended buying a silk screening kit, which I was hesitant to do because of the price, but eventually gave in when my spray paint stencils dream came to a crashing halt.

The silk screening kit was much more time consuming than I originally planned. I was beginning to get nervous because my fundraising had yet to grow out of its initial brainstorming stages. Although the silk screening prepping process took more time, the result was a much cleaner and polished looking stencil.

Tail Feathers of the Quetzal

Tail Feathers of the Quetzal

I chose to draw a simple design, which would make it easier for me to make multiple prints, and would also appeal to many types of people. I also wanted it to have a connection to Costa Rica, with the hopes that the wearer would explain the meaning to others, and inspire more supporters! I decided to use the tail feather of the Quetzal, a tropical bird that resides in Costa Rica. The magnificent tail feathers of the male bird are a wonder to see, and my design attempted to mimic the cascading motion of the feathers, flowing down the right shoulder of the shirt.


Even though I had finished my stencil, there were still many kinks that needed to be ironed out in the screening process. I had to learn how much pressure and ink to use when stencilling, how many prints could be made cleanly in a row and much more! Even late into the process I made little adjustments here and there.

My neolithic printing process

The actual selling of the shirts took a little time to take off, but when it did I became incredibly bogged down with all of the orders. Some weeks I had twenty or more shirts to make! As fast as it picked up, it also died down, which was mostly a blessing, because it almost became a second job! With all the work it entailed, I still would have done it again, because I loved creating something for a good cause, and I felt so proud to see others wear my creation.

My recommendations for other volunteers who want to try something like this, is to take your time and anticipate some bumps in the road. The creative process is never as smooth sailing as you would like it to be, but it is always rewarding when you create for others!

– Abbi MacDonald is heading to Costa Rica for 4- weeks this November with Youth Challenge International 

Fundraising Tip #3: Item Donations and Fundraising Support

This week’s tip was inspired by an enthusiastic, entrepreneurial volunteer who’s innovative fundraising ideas focused on more than money to get things going.

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Tip #3: More than Money

As you begin your fundraising campaign you must remember that donations can be more than money! There are many different types of donations that are essential to your campaign’s success. Time and materials are just as important as dollars!

Many of your closest supporters may be able to provide more time and resources to you than finances. Embrace these donations and use them to your advantage!

For example, if you are having a barbeque fundraiser, see if local grocery stores will donate food. If you are starting a small jewelry or craft business see if a local arts store can donate supplies.  These donations minimize your costs, allowing the focus to be on your fundraising!

Donations of time or skills are just as important! Your friends may be able to design a poster for your fundraising event or help you set-up for your fundraiser. Although you are fundraising for an independent project, fundraising is not necessarily an independent activity. So, use your support network in any way that you can, show your gratitude, and return the favour when you see fit!

Your Fundraising Guru, Ali Jenkins

Marie Chasse’ Fundraising Tips For Preparing Volunteers

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How has your fundraising experience been so far? How have you felt throughout this journey?

It’s definitely been a challenge. By going door-to-door, I’ve faced a lot of rejection, but I’m also determined. In 5 hours I raised $150, which I think is pretty good.

I also held a bake sale in the lobby of the building I work in. The bake sale was definitely a good learning experience in terms of planning and in learning what sells well and what doesn’t. I was fortunate that I had someone help me with baking, which is another recommendation of mine. If you’re going to do a bake sale, make sure you have a helping hand. Overall, the bake sale was a good start given that I raised $312 for one day.

If you could offer 4 tips to preparing volunteers or to those who are interested in going on a YCI project, but are intimidated by the fundraising target, what would you say?

1. You can’t be intimidated. I was hesitant to do door-to-door, but it really helped me to learn how best to convey what YCI does. Being fully informed of the organization made me sound professional and in turn, people were more trusting of me and wanted to donate.

2. Think strategically about whether you can host one big event or do a couple of small-scale soliciting activities. There are pros and cons to both. For instance, with a big event you may fundraise more by having a company in your community sponsor your event, but large-scale events can be overwhelming and a bit out of your control. So in taking this into consideration and also considering your time availability, a series of small-scale initiatives may be more effective.

3. Remind yourself of your main purpose of volunteering with YCI. Frequent check-ins with yourself will help you remain focused on the larger goal. For me, I know I’m looking forward to doing what I can to strengthen youth and communities abroad. So, I remind myself of this to keep focused on reaching my fundraising target.

4. Ask your family and friends to donate! This can be great practice for when you eventually solicit donations from other community members and it helps you to learn what content is most effective in gaining donations. For example, with family and friends, I emphasized that volunteering with YCI will have an impact on my career development.

Going forward with your fundraising, what do you plan on doing?

I am going to continue with going door-to-door for 5 hours every weekend or every other weekend. In addition, I am going to have two more bake sales and encourage my family and friends to garner donations from their coworkers.

– Marie-France Chasse, Preparing Youth Ambassador Volunteer for Costa Rica

Fundraising Tip #2: Say Thank-You!

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Gratitude is always in style. Before you kick off your campaign, think about how you will say thank-you. The manner in which you thank your donors says a lot about you, your professionalism, and can even help you gain more sponsors!

Always remember the 3-step thank-you!

  1. Personally thank your donor
  2. Publically thank your donor (unless they want to remain anonymous)
  3. Hand write thank-you cards or e-cards

Step 1:

If someone donates to your fundraising campaign, first and foremost contact him or her personally by phone or in person to thank them for their contribution. Personal methods of contact show that you appreciate their individual support and also gives you the opportunity to tell them more about what their contribution is helping you achieve.

Step 2:

Thanking your donors is an opportunity to provide your fundraising campaign with more publicity! Don’t be afraid to flaunt your success and gratitude all at once. A public thank-you to your donor through a Facebook post, Tweet, or other method of social media is a great way to show your gratitude as well as link potential donors back to your fundraising campaign.

Step 3:

Call me old fashioned, but receiving a card rather than a bill in the mail is always exciting. Better yet, if you are creative, you can design a thank-you card that reflects your project! It’s up to you whether you write your thank-you cards before or after you go on your project, but I think writing them after is a great way to tell your donors how amazing your experience was and that without their support it would never have become a reality!

Your Fundraising Guru, Ali Jenkins